Written by Garrett Brown – March 5th 2021
Originally published by Film Inquiry
To the inattentive eye, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts (2020) don’t seem to have much in common. Fury Road is a gritty, big-screen action epic, and Kipo is an animated Netflix series aimed at children. The title characters appear to be polar opposites: Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is a reserved, survivalist with a troubled past, while Kipo Oak (Karen Fukahara) is a bright and bubbly teenage girl who has had her DNA altered so she can genetically mutate into a giant pinkish-purple jaguar at will. Although both properties are set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, Kipo traverses diverse biomes, while the audience can practically feel the sweltering desert heat of Fury Road. With these surface-level analyses, Kipo and Fury Road can appear to be incomparable, destined for separate conversations.
The reality is Mad Max: Fury Road and Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts are thematically tied together with their messages of hope and rebirth. These properties are contrarian examples of post-apocalyptic visions of the future depicted in film: rather than showcasing a desaturated and desolate hell-scape, both Fury Road and Kipo show that embracing beauty is crucial to making it through a dangerous world.
COLORING THE WORLD
To mentally cope with the collapse of society, Fury Road and Kipo posit that the first step to embracing beauty is to fill the world with beautiful things, such as color and art. In the process of making Fury Road, director George Miller attempted to avoid apocalypse film cliches by filling every frame with detail.
In a Q&A with Edgar Wright, Miller embraced his choice to brighten the screen. “‘One thing I’ve noticed is that the default position for everyone is to desaturate post-apocalyptic movies,’ bemoaned Miller. ‘It can get really tiring watching this dull, desaturated color.’” Because of this artistic choice, the audience is reminded of the humanity of the characters and can empathize with their struggles to survive.
The audience can also feel Miller’s humanistic touch in the texture of the movie. Instead of some perfectly monochromatic and unified future, the physical world of Fury Road is textured and full of depth. Since the inhabitants have to scavenge for parts, they must build their lives with whatever objects they can find: cars are frankensteined together into war machines, while a guitar is made out of a hospital bedpan and a flame thrower. Every side character and prop has a backstory and mythology. This depth of world-building shows not only the care of the creative teams but also how desperate inhabitants of Fury Road are to create something beautiful and meaningful in the world around them.
While Kipo is obviously an animated cartoon, the world is a rainbow of color, with art and beauty integrated into the culture of a post-human society. While humans have hidden themselves away in sterile, underground colonies (away from “mutes,” animals that have evolved to take on human characteristics) above ground society has thrived. Music and live performance is commonplace amongst the inhabitants of this world. For instance, the Newton Wolves are a pack of scientist wolves, who gather every night at dinner to rap “‘a brief presentation on absolutely everything we’ve learned about the known universe.’”
At its core, Kipo is about humans humbling themselves and integrating humanity into nature. Early in the series, Kipo Oak is separated by an earthquake from her father and the rest of the colony of humans who have taken refuge underground from the fall of society. Being on the surface of Earth for the first time in her life, she assumes that her colony must be tasked with rebuilding the world, a return to “normal” times. Quickly though, Kipo learns that the society of “mutes” (mutant animals who have taken on human characteristics like speech and bipedal stature) are living just fine without the rule of humans. In fact, they have thrived: like Fury Road, the mutes have used the wreckages of the previous world to build their own, and have already begun to accept humans into it (even going so far as to build a theme park called “Ratland,” where all species are welcome).
Through genetic modification, Kipo literally becomes even closer to nature, able to transform into a large purple jaguar. She becomes the bridge to welcome humans into the new era, an era where animals and humans live side by side. Instead of living in fear, the colony learns that despite not being in charge, this humility allows them to appreciate the beauty of living so much more.
“DO NOT, MY FRIENDS, BECOME ADDICTED TO WATER.”
If Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts could be considered a time of humans finally achieving harmony with nature, Mad Max: Fury Road is a world staggering towards that path. However, the roadblocks to this new world include selfish and egomaniacal leaders, who keep everyone in line by hoarding access to beauty and prosperity. One of the classic, defining moments of the film comes from tyrant Immortan Joe, who keeps his followers docile by controlling their access to water. Every now and then, he offers his poor and dirty followers a little bit of water, yanking away access before they can truly satiate their thirst. In one particular instance, he yells out the memorable line “Do not, my friends, become addicted to water. It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence!” Without access to the option to think about anything other than hunger or thirst, Immortan Joe prevents beautiful things from being allowed to blossom.
Working together, Furiosa and Max gather a family of fighters, and set out to topple Immortan Joe, and free his followers. The end of the film shows that liberation of Immortan Joe’s citadel isn’t just about removing the threat of tyranny from the lives of everyone: it also is about redistribution of resources, the removal of hierarchy, and the sharing of the life-giving water. With water, there is health, growth of agriculture, and a pursuit to the world of Kipo: a new age, where humans live in harmony with the environment around them.
On the surface, Mad Max: Fury Road and Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts are incredibly different. Together though, they thread a complicated but hopeful thematic needle: together, they are unified in showing a way forward for societies to heal and move forward. By embracing color, both properties literally embrace the essence of life, the reasons to keep striving for a better world. These stories are about finding beauty in troubled times, embracing chosen families, and building strong communities. With all of the major issues in our world currently, these films and shows give us an opportunity to address the changes we want to see happen.
How do you incorporate beauty into your everyday life? Let us know in the comments below!